A heartfelt goodbye to Trugoy the Dove of De La Soul
OPINION: De La Soul was witty and, unlike so many other rappers, not self-serious. They made me feel seen.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
This one is really hard. R.I.P. to Dave Jolicoeur, aka Trugoy the Dove aka Plug Two of De La Soul, one of the greatest hip-hop groups of all time. Dead at 54. He was a legend. He was far too young and was on the verge of an exciting new phase of his career. After years of fighting with their label, De La’s catalog is finally about to be released on music streaming services, filling the thirst of a generation that grew up with them and surely bringing in new fans who never got to hear them because their classic music wasn’t available on the streamers before. That will change on March 3 and would have surely led to new visibility, new opportunities, new concerts, more money … but he suffered from congestive heart disease for years. No official cause of death has been given, but he’s gone.
De La emerged in 1989, a time when the leaders of hip-hop were towering superheroes from the inner city or brilliant pro-Black intellectuals. I was a high school student, living in the suburbs and attending private school. I had loved hip-hop from the first time I heard “Rapper’s Delight,” but I did not fully realize, could not yet articulate to myself that I saw Chuck D and Big Daddy Kane and KRS-One and Rakim as representing an impossible standard of masculinity. I loved them, but in many ways, I was nothing like them. Then “3 Feet High and Rising” came along. I got the cassette and put it in the deck in my little Honda. I made it through about 12 songs. It was cool but overly silly — there was a whole song in basic French and another where they said the others in the group had dandruff. What? Then came “Tread Water” where they rhymed in the voice of frogs. I said no, they’re playing too much. I pulled the tape out and tossed it into the back of my little car, not caring where it went. I was like, get this crap away from me. I probably went back to listening to Public Enemy or Rakim or Slick Rick.
But a month or so later, the video for “Potholes In My Lawn” popped up on MTV, and I was like, wow, that song is dope, and if they can make stuff like that … wait a minute, where’s that tape? I was buying tapes on my meager allowance. I couldn’t afford to buy a tape twice. I dug around in the messy back of the car until … I found it. On my second listen through with new ears, I fell in love. De La was witty and, unlike so many other rappers, not self-serious. They played with the form of hip-hop, like the way songs were structured. And they were clearly suburban. They made me feel seen. They were, I thought, what I would be if I were a rapper. They were my people.
From there on I became a giant De La fan, following them as they grew from the silly, hippy-ish fun of “3 Feet High and Rising” to the depth of “De La Soul Is Dead” — perhaps the greatest hip-hop album of all time. There they engaged in a meta rejection of their image and actively recontextualized themselves as not wimpy, not soft, not hippies, not silly and not so over themselves that they couldn’t take themselves down a peg. The album is dope, it takes hip-hop in new directions, and it’s a conversation about who De La is. It’s about the identity of the group itself which speaks to larger questions about Black identity. Subsequent albums like “Buhloone Mindstate” and “Stakes Is High” took De La’s vision further, but so much of what the group is about, their ethos, to me, is captured in one line from “In the Woods” by Posdnuos on “Buhloone Mindstate.” “F— being hard, Posdnuos is complicated.” It’s a rejection of the demand to be an emotionless, supertough, gangsta, hypermasculine man. De La was about being fully people, not towering superheroes from the inner city. That line rejected the prison of masculinity long before that phrase was widely said.
I interviewed De La two or three times for Rolling Stone and MTV2. They were always smart and humble, never full of themselves. I really enjoyed my time with them and felt like there was no gap between who they were onstage and who they were off. I can’t recall anything specific about Dave from those meetings because this was over 20 years ago, but I remember really appreciating his energy and enjoying talking to him. De La’s silliness, their sonic complexity, their suburbanness, their love of esoteric samples, their self-conscious artsiness has inspired a wave of important groups from Outkast to Arrested Development to Common to the Roots to Mos Def to Tyler, the Creator circa “Flower Boy” to Kanye and more. De La made it acceptable for rappers to be themselves rather than a hyped-up version of themselves. Especially if that meant being a little nerdy. At a time when many rappers were as serious as a heart attack, De La Soul made it cool to be light-hearted. Pharrell said, “The De La tribe were the forefathers and founders of the way we see things. I was nearly 16 when ‘3 Feet High’ and ‘Rising’ came out. It was a total gamechanger. It changed my life, period.” I feel the same.
Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.
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